Featured Story

Soft-spoken McGarvie lets right arm do the talking while setting new standards

By Jacob Knabel on Nov. 10, 2023 in Football

DJ McGarvie never asked for the spotlight, but it comes with the territory when you’re the starting quarterback carrying record-setting credentials. Perhaps it was McGarvie’s way of embracing the attention when he showed up to this past summer’s media event wearing a light yellow blazer. Despite what his wardrobe choice said on that day, McGarvie would rather the credit go to Concordia’s offensive line or the star receivers he’s thrown to in the form of Austin Jablonski and Korrell Koehlmoos.

Between the ears, McGarvie has become as confident as ever while capitalizing on his own abilities and on an era of talented Bulldog pass catchers. His unassuming style fits perfectly with what Head Coach Patrick Daberkow wants in a quarterback. He’s never too high and never too low.

“I don’t really like to be the vocal leader on the offense,” McGarvie said back in July. “I expect people to show up and do their thing rather than having to get on them. If you’re playing college football, you should not need that motivation for another player to get on you. I’d rather just show up, put the work in and go home.”

The right arm of McGarvie speaks plenty loud enough. While leading Concordia to a 55-26 blowout of Doane in the 2023 home finale, McGarvie broke program all-time records for career touchdown passes (52) and career passing yards (6,415). In the process of leapfrogging past stars such as Jarrod Pimentel and Von Thomas, McGarvie totaled five touchdowns versus Doane and was named the GPAC Offensive Player of the Week. Heading into this season’s final game, McGarvie leads all GPAC signal callers with an average of 275.2 passing yards per game.

The success is not necessarily due to McGarvie possessing a cannon, rather he relies on accuracy, a quick release and an expert knowledge of a Concordia offense that has evolved significantly in recent years. The Bulldog Football teams of yesteryear rarely aired it out like this, but Daberkow and his staff adjusted to fit the team’s strengths. As Daberkow stated in September regarding McGarvie, “He’s playing at as high of a level at quarterback consistently as I’ve seen from any quarterback here.”

In the recruiting process, Concordia did not have to go far to find McGarvie, a Valparaiso, Neb., native who played his high school ball at Lincoln North Star. The Bulldogs already had a leg up on the competition with DJ’s older sister Caitlyn having begun her Concordia Softball career with the 2019-20 academic year. Outside of Concordia, DJ received the strongest interest from Midland and Dakota Wesleyan. The brother-sister bond and the relationships DJ formed with assistant coaches Reggie Corbin and Von Thomas put Concordia over the top.

It's likely no one knew exactly how DJ would eventually impact the Concordia Football program. There was a time not long ago when McGarvie preferred baseball to football. Said McGarvie, “I knew I wanted to play quarterback (going into high school), but I didn’t think I was going to play college football. I liked baseball a lot more and then I kind of stopped liking baseball and liked football more. I liked baseball more than football growing up.”

As a youngster, DJ got his education through Lincoln Public Schools, remaining in the system even when his family moved from Lincoln to Valparaiso with DJ then eight years old. DJ’s love for football took off once he earned the starting quarterback role at North Star in the middle of his sophomore year. He never looked back in throwing for 3,130 yards and 25 touchdowns over his prep career.

The high school numbers were solid, but McGarvie seemingly faced at least a year of learning the rigors of college football before seeing the field as a Bulldog. As the 2021 season kicked off, Wyatt Ehlers took the first snaps as QB1. Listed as 6-foot-3 and a generous 205 pounds at the time, McGarvie was written in as the No. 2 quarterback. In coming off the bench for the first two games of his career, McGarvie completed 10-of-11 passes for 183 yards and five touchdowns.

It had become obvious very early that the true freshman could sling it. What was the most difficult adjustment for McGarvie to college football? “The language,” McGarvie answered. “I came for spring ball my senior year of high school. Before school, I’d come watch spring ball. I knew the plays. I didn’t know the signals yet, but I knew some of the plays and some of the language for it. I learned it over the summer when I would come here and throw.”

By the third game of his career, McGarvie got the nod as a starter. That first season, McGarvie wound up throwing for 1,484 yards to go along with 19 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. There were growing pains, and the passing attack was more conservative at the time, but McGarvie showed plenty of promise while leading Concordia to a 7-3 record. It appeared that the quarterback position was locked up through 2024.

Then Austin Jablonski arrived. Daberkow promised the former University of Nebraska walk on that he would be given a shot at winning the quarterback job. ‘Jabo’ emerged from fall camp at the top of the depth chart, leaving McGarvie to watch the first two games of 2022 from the sideline. Instead of sulking, McGarvie prepared himself to be ready whenever his No. 3 was called again.

To this day, McGarvie refuses to express bitterness about the situation. He and Jablonski have developed a close bond that grew even while they competed for the same spot. Says McGarvie, “When he came in as a quarterback, we knew we just wanted to win. It didn’t matter if he was playing quarterback or I was playing quarterback. We just wanted to win. Once I took the job, he knew that what was best for the team was for him to make the switch. It helped the team out tremendously.”

Indeed, Concordia Football was better off with McGarvie throwing it and Jablonski catching it. Once McGarvie reclaimed the quarterback job, the shackles came off. McGarvie broke the school single season record for passing yards (2,553) in 2022 and shattered the program standard for a single game when he threw for 458 yards versus Dordt. The right arm of McGarvie has paved the way for 1,000-yard receiving seasons for Koehlmoos in 2022 and for Jablonski in 2023. Understandably, Concordia ditched the speed option and focused on accentuating the passing game, which has also featured receivers such as Carsen Arline and Luke Lang.

“We’re very good at using our strengths to win us games, like using Jabo’s speed, size and ability,” McGarvie said. “We’re able to really read a defense. Korrell was really good at that. We use all that to our advantage. We have so many very good receivers, so they can’t just triple team Jabo. We have Arline, Luke Lang, Max (Bartels) and Beau (Psencik) – and (Adam) Van Cleave when he was healthy. That makes it really hard on a defense when they have to cover all those guys, rather than just one.”

McGarvie has found Jablonski for an NAIA leading 85 receptions and 1,033 receiving yards. The combination has resulted in one explosive play after another. Said Jablonski of McGarvie, “DJ’s a hard worker. He has a really high football IQ and is great to work with.”

Shortly after McGarvie rose to the top of Concordia’s passing charts last week, he made it clear that those records belonged to his teammates just as much as they did to him. Before DJ answered any questions, he paused as a crowd gathered outside the locker room. Teammate Carson Core dropped to a knee and made a marriage proposal to Concordia Softball alum Jerzi Rowe, who had been a teammate with Caitlyn. Did Carson just steal DJ’s thunder? Nah, he loved it.

“They are super happy for me but with Carson proposing, I was very happy for him,” McGarvie said. “I’m glad we focused on Carson. That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I love the dude. I’m really happy for him.”

When DJ does speak, he has a way of saying the right things. It’s no wonder his coaches keep throwing more responsibility at him. Says Daberkow, “DJ has made great decisions. He’s an absolute threat with the ball in his hands.”

Added DJ, “The coaches have so much trust in me. It’s almost unbelievable. They put us in positions to win. It helps us out tremendously. If I’m not having success or I’m not comfortable with a certain play in practice, they won’t call it during a game.”

DJ and his teammates will tell you that the overall record (4-5) isn’t what was expected this fall, but the Bulldogs know they aren’t far off from being 6-3. The aim right now for McGarvie is simply to finish strong at Mount Marty and then be prepared to lead Concordia to greater heights in 2024.

With a full year to play, McGarvie isn’t just going to break all the program passing records. He’s going to crush them. That right arm does the talking when it comes to McGarvie, who simply wants to “just keep building on what we’ve already done.”